Thank You, Prince

Yet another musical genius of popular music has died. The fact that Prince and David Bowie died within months of each other does not feel random to me. Two people who lived and breathed their art, always seeking for different ways to express themselves, both of whom marched to their own beat and who died far too young.

Photograph by Planton Antoniou

Photograph by Planton Antoniou

The New Yorker magazine published an article that outlined some of the many reasons for why Prince was so respected by his peers and fans alike.

And here is an excerpt from an interview Prince did with Jim Walsh from the Minneapolis Post:

“I am music. I feel music. When I walk around, I hear brand new things. You’re almost cursed. You’re not even (its maker), you’re just there to bring it forth. You know, ‘Can’t I go to sleep?’ No. You can’t. But OK, now you can. And you go to sleep, and you don’t hear it, and then you’re lonely. No one wants to be on Earth alone.”

 He spoke for all artists with those words.

Walsh wrote, “…that’s what we mourn today — the loss of an eternal seeker, which all great artists are at heart.” Our world is left less colorful, less vibrant, and diminished by his passing.

Thank you, Prince, for all the gifts you gave us.

My Photographic Archives- What to Do With Them? (Part 2)

My last post addressed the fact that I have been thinking a lot lately about what will happen to my photographs after I am gone. I have not come to any firm conclusions yet, so stay tuned.

But there was an article in the New York Times recently about Bob Dylan’s archives which interested me. It didn’t provide me with any potential solutions to my own problem, but it was great food for thought.

The Dylan archive, which was recently acquired by a group of institutions in Oklahoma, consists of over 6,000 items which include lyrics, notebooks, correspondence, recordings, films and photographs. Apparently no one had known prior to this that his archives were so extensive, and the Times’ article discusses what a treasure trove it will be for researchers:

“With voluminous drafts from every phase of Mr. Dylan’s career, the collection offers a comprehensive look at the working process of a legendarily secretive artist. … The range of hotel stationary suggests an obsessive self-editor in constant motion.”

Apparently, the archives were formed by simple accumulation over the years, and then placed in storage. Dylan eventually hired an archivist, who started the process of organizing everything before it was offered for sale.

One of the most intriguing questions posed by the article was whether other rock artists of the 60’s and 70’s will follow in Dylan’s footsteps when it comes to their archives. Jon Landau, Bruce Springsteen’s manager, noted “the disconnect between the needs of professional archivists and the culture of rock in the 1960’s. “Was anyone sitting around worrying about this kind of thing back then?”, he said. “We were living in the era of ‘Hope I die before I get old.'” It’s my guess that very few of the giants of rock from that era would have such an extensive collection of items as Bob Dylan has. And I wonder how many artists from all media think about something like this?

Finally, the article mentions that, despite the large volume of items that make up his archive, it reveals very little about Dylan the man that is not already known. Since Dylan is known for being obsessively private, that does not surprise me. It makes me wonder if he edited out anything that referred to his personal life so that it would never see the light of day.

All of this brings up the question of what exactly would be valuable to include in one’s archive. In my case, just “final” photographs that were published or exhibited? All of my negatives and contact sheets and RAW digital files with nothing edited out? Technical notes? Work prints? Correspondence with galleries, curators, museums, fellow artists? Personal journals? Bob Dylan is a seminal artist in his field, who has influenced his medium in profound ways. I am not such an artist in my field. It makes sense to me that what would be included in a valuable archive of an artist of Dylan’s stature would be quite different from what would be included in mine. But…. maybe not?

The question of what to include is an challenging one because it of course means that you would be editing the items, unless you were to include absolutely everything you ever created or did. And in editing the items, you would be creating a specific picture of yourself as an artist that might be different than the one others would get if left unedited.

And, if you are not a Bob Dylan or an Ansel Adams or a Sally Mann, then who are you creating an archive for? Where would it be housed? Who would have  access to it? Who would be interested in it? Why create one at all?

So many questions, and so few answers, at least for now.

My Photographic Archives- What To Do With Them? (Part 1)

I have no good answer for the question posed in the title of this post. But I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately.

The first time I ever stopped to think about what to do with one’s photographic archives was back in 1990. I blogged about this story back in 2013, but I want to return to it now, as it is a good lead-in to upcoming posts that I will write about concerning this topic.

A couple of days after moving into our house, I saw a moving van parked across the street. Two men were taking out all the furniture from a house whose elderly owner had died a few weeks before. Her relatives had sold the entire contents of the house to an estate buyer, and they had come to empty it out.

Among the items lined up for removal was what I recognized as a standing slide file cabinet. Because I was badly in need of one at that point in time, I went across the street to take a closer look. I saw that each drawer was labeled with the locations and dates of what clearly had been trips the deceased had taken. “Nepal, 1972”, “California, 1958”, “Canada, 1966”. I pulled open one of the drawers, and there they were, slide after slide after slide of this woman’s life in pictures. I realized with a start that no one wanted them, that they were going to be thrown away, as if those trips and that woman’s life had never happened. There was an entire life’s history there, and it was going to be tossed. The realization made me feel awful.

The movers asked me if I wanted the cabinet, telling me to just make an offer and I could have it, as it would be one less thing for them to move. But I couldn’t.

I knew that if I bought it, I would be the one to throw away those slides, and even if I filled it up and used it for years, the memory of her slides and her forgotten life would linger on. And so would the guilt I would feel.

I know that my potential sense of guilt wasn’t rational. But that incident started me thinking about how we deal (or don’t) with the photographic records of our lives. What do I want to save for future generations- my artwork, my family photos, both? Will future generations even care? Should my records be saved in print or digitally? Who archives them? Where will they be housed?

I’m working on the answers to these questions because I want to consciously decide what happens to my own archive of creative work. I want to make sure that it will live on in some fashion. And I don’t want my printed photographs and hard drives out on the curb one day, waiting for the trash collector, just because I couldn’t make a decision about what to do with them.

All artists are faced with this question, and all of us answer it in different ways. But it is important to come up with some kind of answer, if we don’t want to see our work disappear from the face of the earth at the same time that we do.